The Case of Soulbottles: How Impact in Production Led to Greater Profit

This article originally appeared in B the Change and was published with permission.

Through research and site visits, soulbottles identifies suppliers that value the environment and work to protect it.

Like its signature product, the plastic-free drinking bottle, soulbottles has a clear business purpose. The German company, founded in 2012, helps to increase its customers’ sustainability through its signature glass bottles. But the Certified B Corp is also reducing the environmental footprint it leaves in producing the bottles while building Earth-friendly practices in its company operations and consumer messaging.

Its durable, artistic bottles are designed to break the plastic bottle cycle and encourage responsible water use. To limit shipping distances, soulbottles produces its bottles in Germany — the bulk of its sales are in Europe — and works with myclimate to mitigate the environmental impact of the process through carbon offsets. Through research and site visits, the company identifies suppliers that value the environment and work to protect it.

“We take care to keep the production as local as possible,” says soulbottles spokeswoman Nina Pestke. “Even if it sounds utopian, every single resource for a glass-made bottle can actually be found within our country.”

This attention to the environment, and continuing efforts to create more sustainable products in ways that reduce the company’s environmental resource use, earned soulbottles a spot on the 2018 Best For The World: Changemakers list with 202 other Certified B Corporations. The honor reflects soulbottles’ efforts to increase its local sourcing to 30 percent during the last two years and its focus on longer-term impact improvements to build business. Soulbottles is a Best For The World Changemaker, which is evaluated based on measurable positive impact across all impact areas, including community, workers and environment. Find all Best For The World honorees and stories.

Paying It Forward

In addition to its sustainable supply chain practices, soulbottles donates 1 euro from every bottle sold to drinking-water projects in developing countries — an amount that now totals close to half a million euros (or more than $590,000) and has provided an estimated 42,000 people with access to clean water.

While turning on the tap for clean drinking water is an afterthought for most people in Germany and the Western world, soulbottles knows that isn’t the case in countries like Nepal, where its funding helps support a water sanitation hygiene project (WASH). In November 2016, soulbottles leaders visited the project in Nepal, where they saw firsthand how the donations make a difference.

Equitable Under the Law

Soulbottles also strives to make a difference in workers’ lives by performing quality assurance reviews on up to 75 percent of its suppliers, ensuring they treat their employees equitably. In Germany, those conditions are reinforced by the Pay Transparency Act, a law adopted in 2017 to shrink the pay equity gap. It requires German companies with more than 200 employees to provide salary structure information to workers who request it. Companies with more than 500 employees are required to report pay equity in a public filing.

“As the biggest share of our production is in Germany, our costs are definitely higher than others in the industry,” Pestke says. “But we know that all of suppliers’ employees work under German law-based working conditions.”

While soulbottles had sustainability as part of its mission from the start, its initial certification as a B Corp in 2015 formalized its social and environmental values for suppliers, employees and customers. Ensuring its suppliers provide an equitable and sustainable work environment aligns with steps outlined in the B Lab Best Practice Guide: Creating Impact Through Purchasing.

“We strive not to be the best company of the world but the best company for the world, which has a bigger impact,” Pestke says. “The B Corp seal makes that main goal more visible.”

Being part of the B Corp community also means collaborating with other Berlin-based B Corps, including Coffee Circle.

A Sustainable Lifestyle

As consumer demand grows for the bottles — some featuring enviro-friendly designs like silver fern and the Alps — so do company sales and staffing levels. Soulbottles sells its product primarily in European countries but hopes to gradually expand to other markets. Now with 40 employees, the company sold more than 120,000 bottles in 2017 and expects to beat that number this year.

It also continually looks to improve its products with even more sustainable and durable materials, with plans to raise the recycling share of its glass from the current 20 percent. Producing glass from recycled materials also reduces energy use compared with using virgin glass.

Because Germany has long ranked at the top of European countries for its recycling programs and rates, an eco-aware lifestyle is the norm for most soulbottles employees and many other Germans.

“We think about our work as ‘purpose,’” Pestke says. “Working at soulbottles comes with a lot of awareness.”

That means everyday employee practices often include drinking tap instead of bottled water, riding a bike or taking a commuter train to work rather than driving, and choosing a “green” bank for personal finances.

And soulbottles employees have a short shopping list when looking for gifts, Pestke says.

“Within her or his first year at soulbottles, every employee probably has one present for every beloved one in her or his life: a soulbottle,” she says, adding that it’s a gift that also spreads the sustainability message.

Like Best For The World: Changemakers, all B Corps actively seek positive impact improvement through their business. From Sept. 25 to 27, 2018, the B Corp community will gather to share their impact stories, processes and experiments, helping all companies become stronger changemakers. Stay tuned for updates from the lessons shared at the retreat.

B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

Looking for more? Read our article, 3 of the Best Plastic Replacement Innovations Today to find out more about combatting plastic pollution!

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